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April 27, 2008


Wesley Fryer

Tom: I heard Roger Shank discuss at SITE 2007 the importance of home schoolers being admitted to college via alternative methods other than high school transcripts and test scores. Of course the college admissions situation is a big numbers game, so they may always look for quick ways to cull down the numbers, and test scores are certainly a ready mechanism for that. It is sad to hear about other countries seeming to follow the US in the testing mania. The words of the Turkish education minister sound very reasonable. I created a video documentary (which unfortunately we couldn't get permission to publicly publish) on test anxiety as a grad student several years ago. This is a real issue, but one which I perceive leaders in the US currently pay little heed. I wonder how this train of testing momentum can be slowed and switched onto a different and more constructive track? I don't have an answer to that question but I am certainly searching for one.


Thanks, Wes, for bringing up the politics of education. Education policy isn't necessarily about education. The most important drivers are not teachers or parents, or even experts in pedagogy. In Turkey, the exam system is driven by the billion-dollar exam prep course business, and there just hasn't been enough courage (or financial independence?) to stand up to that lobby. I'm somebody somewhere in the US is benefiting from NCLB. Follow the money.

Another big problem with education policy is that it takes years before you can really evaluate the impact of a policy change. Unfortunately a lot of ed policy evaluation is about grades and graduation statistics, because they're quantifiable, quick and dirty, even though policy really needs to be evaluated according to its impact on economic sustainability and innovation. I just listened this weekend to the speech by Tim Tyson (http://tinyurl.com/2hw5rg) which I learned about from you. It takes a lot of strong, smart leadership to make the drastic changes that might have saved their hometown.

A big problem is that it's difficult to get people to look even ten years into the future, especially when high school students are thinking about a job or college next year, and their parents just want to see the diploma. To get all the stakeholders on board for a major change is risky business.

I think about this stuff all the time, and I don't have answers. I'm working with colleagues here to explore alternatives such as authentic work, but even as a private school we are shackled by the central government's prescribed program, exams, objectives, etc., all of which target that one exam.

Happy Monday.


I encountered the anxiety exam here in the U.S. I worked with a new exchange program at a University that provided ESL for students participating in a 1 year exchange program at a private Turkish school here in the U.S. The students were already preparing for the national exams even though they hadn't entered high school in Turkey. They talked about the importance of the exam in determining their future. After they returned to Turkey I kept in contact with many of them and about 40% had enrolled in some kind of prep course for the exam. About 10% chose to stay in the United States and enroll in the private school with hopes that this would help them get into an American university. This style of testing was enculturated for them. As I was teaching them applied English, I pushed the boundaries of their academic comfort with presentations, group projects, field trips and the use of rubrics. While their resistance was huge almost insurmountable (administration-wise) those boys were applying what they learned and as an educator I could assess their progress and my instruction. Watching my husband, a 6th grade teacher here in the U.S., endure the Connecticut Mastery Test every year reminds me that the tests don't do much but provide numbers for administrators to interpret as they will. We have to find better ways to authentically and continually assess students rather because all or nothing has always been broken.

The New York Times just published an article about the private school, test prep, and sleep deprived lives of Korean students. www.nytimes.com/2008/04/27/world/asia/27seoul.html

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